Henry of Navarre aka Henry 4 (2010)

Based on Heinrich Mann’s eponymous novel Henry of Navarre aka Henry 4 is a large-scale epic about one of the bloodiest chapters in French history. This is a fascinating and eerily beautiful movie. It is a French-German co-production which explains why there are as many French as German actors.

I’m quite familiar with French history from Louis XIV on but what came before is somewhat blurred. I knew about the massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Day (La St. Barthélemy) and the Edict of Nantes, was familiar with the Queen Margot and Catherine de Medici, I had even heard the famous saying “Paris vaut bien une messe” meaning “Paris is worth a mass” but I wouldn’t have tied all this together and associated it with Henry of Navarre, future King Henry IV of France. What a bloody story, full of treachery, passion, fanaticism, civil war and murder.

Henry, King of the little kingdom of Navarre, is forced to go to war at an early age. By the time he turns twenty it is all he knows. It is the time in which France is divided in two. Catholics are on one side, Protestants (Huguenots) on the other. The Civil War or Wars of Religion rage and tear the country apart. Paris and the court are held by Catholics who are to a certain extent ruled by the Pope. They don’t get married without the assent of the Holy Father. The people of the kingdom of Navarre and Henry himself are Protestants. The opposing parties meet on the battlefield more often than anywhere else.

France is unofficially reigned by the scary Catherine de Medici, the King’s mother. Charles, the King, is an anxious man, constantly afraid of being poisoned or murdered. His fear is well grounded as we will soon find out. Catherine de Medici had the reputation of being a cruel, despotic woman who had people executed on a whim. But even she is tired of war and arranges a marriage between her daughter, the beautiful Margot, and Henry of Navarre.

The marriage is overshadowed by the death of Henry’s mother, presumably she was poisoned. As soon as they are married someone orders to massacre all the protestants in the city which will be the famous St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre.

The following two-thirds of the story follow Henry until he finally becomes Henry IV, King of France. Many people had to lose their life to make this a possibility.

The movie excels in making these people come to life and shows us a King who was far beyond the ordinary. He was  much-loved, tolerant and accepting of people of every religious conviction. This may well have been the first step towards France becoming a secular country, something it has remained until today. Henry was also a womanizer, a trait the film-makers enjoyed to illustrate.

For those who aren’t familiar with the story of Henry IV, I’m not going to reveal too much. It should suffice to say that love plays a major role. He will also divorce the Queen Margot as she cannot give him the much-needed heir and will get married to Marie de Medici.

I didn’t know much about Henry IV, so I’m not sure how well-chosen Julien Boisselier is. He’s a pleasant, likable looking man and did a very good job.

Ulrich Noethen as Charles IX, is very convincing. He is an experienced actor who has starred in movies like The Downfall.

Having studied old French literature I had to read Agrippa D’Aubignés Les Tragiques. It’s a harrowing account of the times and the Wars of Religion. I liked that Agrippa played a prominent role in the movie. He is played by the excellent German actor Joachim Król. Agrippa was one of Henry’s best friends and only left him towards the end, to withdraw from the world and start to write his famous book.

The most fascinating character of them all, is Catherine de Medici. Hannelore Hoger, a German TV star, plays her very well. She gives an uncanny, eerie and quite scary Catherine de Medici.

All in all, I enjoyed Henry of Navarre a lot and will re-watch it. If you like epic movies, beautiful cinematography and French history you will enjoy it.

I’d like to thank Showbox Media Group for sending me a review copy of the movie.

Henry of Navarre is out to buy on Blu-ray and 2 disc-DVD on 4th July 2011, courtesy of Showbox Media Group.


15 thoughts on “Henry of Navarre aka Henry 4 (2010)

  1. Guy Savage says:

    Thanks for the review. I’m looking forward to watching it.

    • You are welcome and I’m relly interested to read what you think. maybe you know that period in French history better than me? I am tempted to read Heinrich Mann’s novel but it is huge, far over a 1000 pages.

  2. the war movie buff says:

    Sounds interesting. I am a little familiar with him. He has one of the most senseless deaths in history although it does not sound like the movie shows it. If I ever get to see it, it will be intriguing to see how accurate it is.

    • Of course the movie shows it but, as I wrote, I didn’t want to be too explicit, in order to not spoil it for those who don’t know. It is debatable whether revealing historical facts is a spoiler or not. I think in this case, where most people outside of France are unlikely to know the details, it was justified not to tell.
      I had forgotten about it and it did upset me. It was incredibly senseless and such a shame. He was one of the better Kings of France, I reckon.

  3. Afin says:

    What a nice review! I like it. 😉

    “Henry was also a womanizer, a trait the film-makers enjoyed to illustrate.”
    Yes, indeed! *LOL*

    I’ve watched this lovely epic ––i guess you could also call it as a war–– movie. Why did i just doubt to categorize this epic movie as a “war movie”? I think it’s due to the one major battle scene that is too short and adequate but war ––or how to end it–– remains the background theme to this film and occupies little of the screenplay. That’s why. The production values are reasonably good, though as in many other historical films, battles are not very credible when it seems to involve the fight of dozens of people, instead of thousands (films like these should consider using a Computer Generated Imagery tech. to give modern audiences the feel of a large battle) :D. For me, after all, this film is more about politic than war.

    Um, for those who know the history of the French wars/ religion war and those who think that the DVD cover promises a “battle-fest”, well then, they may be disappointed. But i guess the filmmakers of these kinda “epic” movies have done a very good job. Well actually, i didn’t know much about Henry IV, so i’m not sure how good the story of this film goes and i literally just read all the informations about Henry IV right after watching this film.

    It takes about two and almost a half hours to watch this film. I really enjoyed it. What a quite long duration for short “war scenes”. Ha..ha..ha. You know what? I watch this film like 3 times cos i am making the Indonesian subtitle for this movie. Thanks for your nice review.


    Afin lz

    • Hi Afin, thanks for your comment and the compliment. You do the subtitles for the Indonesian movie, how interesting.
      I’m glad you enjoyed my humor, not sure people always get it. 🙂
      I think the movie is fairly true to the historical facts. And of course you could argue whther it is really a war movie.
      I decided a while back to branch out much more or it would be a bit tiring for me to watch really only combat driven movies. War can just be a theme or an influence or a backdrop.
      I’m going to watch it again, I liked it a lot.

      • Afin says:

        No probs, u’re very welcome.
        Wait a sec, is it me, is it just me (who really is suck ini english lang.), or is it u, who just got my words wrong? *lol* :p
        Well, ya, i mean, i do thee “Indonesian subtitles” for “foreign / western movies” (holliwood movies, european movies, n etc.). FYI, i am Indonesian, ‘sire’. 😀 thats why i do the subtitles for foreign language flicks. :p
        Infact i don’t like Indonesian movies pretty much (except those certain good ones).
        As u can see or imagine, i do like humors. Urs is not bad. And yes, this movie is fairly true the historical facts except King Charles who looks older in this film. He supposed to be died at his young age (23) in the real historical event.

        Where are you from anyway?

      • I’m French/Italian but live in the German speaking part of Switzerland. Guess we both suck in English. 🙂 I hear that Indonseian movies are nit that gripping as I’m told by my friend from Polychrome Interest. She is Indonesian. Maybe you know her blog?

  4. Afin says:

    i dont know, may be ure right. That i’m suck in english. Wow, so u are french? I love France, UK, i love Europe after my own country! 🙂

    Who is she? I dont know any about her. Even her blog.
    I don’t even know u….yet. Let’s have a nice introduction then.. 😉

    Any social site? Let’s trade something! #lol*

  5. Afin says:

    No sweat. It’s ok, i was just wondering.
    What a shiny blog she got there. I am looking forward to get to know her. 🙂

    What about skype ID? or any other chatting medias’ ID? d u have one?
    I’m thinking about learning french language.

  6. […] Henri de Navarre – Henry 4 (2010) French movie on Henry 4. Historical and epic movie about King Henri 4 of France and the War of Religions. (Here is my review) […]

  7. […] Henri de Navarre – Henry 4 (2010) French movie on Henry 4. Historical and epic movie about King Henri 4 of France and the War of Religions. (Here is my review) […]

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